Aimlessly creating stuff

Disclaimer – I wrote this on a train without wi-fi yesterday, and have come back to it about 12 solid hours of drinking and three hours of sleep later. So, typos, errors, no fact checking.

I’m a bit at a loss as to what to write in this blog these days. When I had a specific day carved out and it had turned into a basic training blog, it was far easier to ramble about stuff that wasn’t training when I wasn’t ‘supposed’ to be writing it. So expect no real direction or schedule to my writing for a while – it’s going to be as aimless and castabout as I am, for the time being.  As a result, I’m expecting my fairly steady reading numbers to drop, because self-indulgent twaddling is really for a private diary. I mostly wrote that last sentence as a challenge to myself not to write self-indulgent twaddling.

My spare energy at the moment is going towards song writing, which I haven’t worked at with this kind of energy and focus since university, when I had no piano access and knew three chords on the guitar. So my approach was to pick the chords I knew, and then wail over the top and maybe there’d be a song from that. My style was limited at best.

So, last week, I pulled out the various scrubbings and scratching of lyrics that have happened over the years and sat down and thought, Right, time to make something. Normally, I start and I write something I don’t like very much, and I can’t formulate a decent tune (or can’t get my voice to carry the tune I want) and then give up for another year. This time though, I gave up on using an instrument. I sat with a pen and the beginnings of a song and a crappy recording app on my phone (unfair – it’s actually decent enough, just riddled with adverts).  Then I scribbled and sang, and worked, and sang and drummed badly with a pencil, and lo, I had the bare bones of a still-needs-work-but-actually-I-like-it song. First full song in decade, written unhindered by which chords I can play on a guitar.

Then Neil Gaiman’s ‘Make Good Art’ speech reappeared on various social networks yesterday. It’s making the rounds again (if you’ve never watched it, see below). I love the speech. It is inspiring. 

It also got me thinking. Once this song is finished, what do I do with it? I mean, I can work on it (and others), and play it a couple of times, and maybe make a passable recording – but I have no musical ambition. What happens to a song that’s been written with no reason to be played? Maybe I’ll put it up on the internet, but I have no desire to have strangers tell me I can’t sing and shouldn’t give up my day job. Open mike is out of the question – I have horrible, horrible stage fright. Less so than I did, but no real desire to get in front of an audience, no desire to do anything with music other than write it and play it at home occasionally.


Which begs the question (overlooking that I’m hesitant to call the stuff I write art): is it worth spending time making art if no one will ever see it or hear it? Can anyone ever really be satisfied just making art for themselves, or does everyone really want their work to be seen and/or heard? I mean, isn’t that the point of art? I wish this blog had more readers, because I really would like to hear people’s opinions on this. It seems sad to work so hard at creating something just for it to vanish into the ether – something far more likely to happen to music than drawn art, since at least once a picture is drawn or a story written it is committed to paper and can be discovered. Music, though, unless you know your notation and can commit it fairly accurately to paper, if you don’t share it, then it’s gone forever – at least the song as you intended it to sound. It seems like a waste.

A drawing illustrating my general suspicion of enthusiastically sharing art.
A drawing illustrating my general suspicion of enthusiastically sharing art.

That’s ‘as you intended it to sound’ is modern concern, though. Back before regular and easy recording, music was far more of a shared, but personal thing. It was always a form of collaborative art. Last year, Beck released a folder of (beautifully presented) songs in sheet music form (complete with parodies of the adverts that appear on the old sheet music you can still find in second-hand shops and some music stores. I haven’t checked whether the album version is released yet (I believe one was/is planned), but the point was to hearken back to the days when this is how music spread: there was no definitive version of a song. There’s also a website with people uploading their interpretations of the sheetmusic. The point is, once a song, or instrumental, was written and committed to paper, people took the penny sheets and performed the pieces how they thought they ought to be sung with whatever instrument they had to hand, and through that interpretation made the music personal to them. Maybe they heard somebody else sing it like that once, but music belonged to the masses. If it sounded the way the singer or player wanted it to sound, that was ‘right’. The writer’s intentions had fuck all to do with it by then. To steal from a different discipline altogether, the author was well and truly dead back then. Recording and publishing, I suppose – selling the finished item rather than the building blocks, made things more exclusive for a while. They fostered a right and wrong way to approach things that hasn’t died off, but thanks to the advent of digital production, youtube, blogs, is on the way out.

Which brings us to the internet and the amazing collaborative projects available out there now. I guess there’s no such thing as wasted art if you have the guts to fling it out there. Someone will see it, maybe someone will love it. Sites are devoted to people sharing their work and building on the work of others. People do what they want with what they hear and see, if it strikes them, and maybe you’ll never know who wrote or drew the original version – but in someone’s life, it’s left a mark. The internet has, to some extent taken us full circle – art belongs to the masses again. And that’s a good thing. It’s just a case of being brave enough to join them.

4 thoughts on “Aimlessly creating stuff

  1. A thought-provoking post…. You asked if anyone can be satisfied making art just for themselves or is the point of art to share it. I think that making art can be a way for artists to help them make sense of the world and to deal with things that happen in their lives. I can’t speak for others, but I’m my first audience — and sometimes a sketch or writing is something I don’t want to share. Could be that I didn’t like the work, or that I feel too vulnerable in sharing it. But with other pieces, I like sharing them — and I like having a blog for being able to do that. Before the Internet, sharing art was pretty much with friends and family unless you could win over a gatekeeper in an art gallery or publication. I guess what I’m saying is that some of my work is just for me. I’m okay with it being in a sketchbook and never leaving there. But other stuff, I like sharing and seeing what people think of it. There are many times I don’t get many likes or comments on my blog posts, but if the post made someone smile or laugh or scratch their head and say, “That was pretty neat,” then that’s really cool. Just some thoughts…


  2. You’re not asking easy questions, so you’re not going to get easy answers! But I think that you might begin by asking yourself whether it’s the creating or the sharing that’s satisfying to you.

    It seems ironic that in these days of accessible creative tools and easy sharing — the easiest sharing of the self ever, through blogs and tweets and youtube uploads — young people are being trained that there is a “right” and a “wrong” in all things. It starts with believing that the Disney movie is the definitive version of Cinderella; it is fostered through the test-taking culture (on my side of the Atlantic, at least); and it is reinforced by the quick, comprehensive criticisms that appear under any act of creation anyone is so injudicious as to put online. The frivolous is lauded; the serious is derided. My students tell me that they only tweet what they think will get lots of “re-tweets” and approving attention — those, apparently, are the “right” tweets.

    So I can absolutely see why any creator would be hesitant to share her creation. SHOULD she? Beats me. It’s your song and you make the meaning (until you share it). Does the meaning lie in the act of creation or the act of sharing?


  3. Love that this post has resulted in really thoughtful replies. Someone replied directly to my facebook wall as well, so I’m copying what she put here:

    ‘There was a whole movement across all the arts in the 19th century called “Art pour l’art” or art for arts sake that dealt with this very issue. It was primarily a backlash against photography I think, but basically the idea was that you create art for the joy of its creation and because you want to. Not for display, or making a political point. So it was anti-kitsch too which is always good. But it’s always worth have a nose about it if you’re bored. You’ll be surprised at some of the names associated with it.’

    I like the idea of a there being a movement against art as political statement, because that there was a movement at all means there must have been some sort of poltical/societal statement being made…


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